Sunday, March 11, 2012

Paccheri alla polpa di granchio

While visiting London a week ago, I took the opportunity to take some Italian ingredients back to Singapore. I managed to get hold of these wonderful "Pomodorinmi del Piennolo del Vesuvio DOP", preserved by San Nicola Dei Miri, Gragnano. This a very homemade production from an area where some of the best tomatoes can be harvested. It is really not an industrial type of processing, so much so that each jar is numbered by hand.

The Pomodorini del Piennolo are one of the best varieties of Italian tomatoes, originating from the
National Park of Vesuvio. These famous Vesuvian tomatoes called "del Piennolo" are grown on small pieces of land 150-450mt above the sea level. The volcanic terroir and plenty of sun benefit the flavour of these tomatoes. They have a sweet and lightly sour flavour, due to the particular concentration of sugars and minerals derived from the terroir where they are grown. They are particularly good when rapidly cooked, lightly tossed with the sauce and then served with pasta. This is exactly what cannot be done with tomatoes bought in Singapore, which require long cooking times before any flavour is released.

This was the perfect opportunity to pair a batch of Paccheri di Gragnano I have been storing for some time, with these beautiful tomatoes, grown form a nearby area.

I used a few simple ingredients:
  • 8 pomodorini del Piennolo DOP
  • 200g crab meat (defrosted)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic (squashed)
  • half glass of dry white wine
  • 150ml lobster stock
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 10 large leaves of basil
  • 180g Paccheri di Gragnano
I decided to use lobster stock purely because I had it in my freezer. It's a leftover from a lunch with friends we had 2-3 weeks ago, and this is surely not an ingredient that goes wasted. You can of course use other stock like fish or even better shellfish stock that you can make on the fly in 15 minutes.
Heat some olive oil in a frying pan, and add the squashed garlic and bay leaves (I also added some chilli flakes for a bit of heat). Once the garlic is golden, carefully add the crab meat, lightly toss it for 30 seconds, then add the white wine and let evaporate. When the crab meat is cooked, remove it from the pan together with the garlic, which you will discard. Set the crab meat aside in a small bowl. In the meantime, you will have boiled and salted some water for the pasta. Put the Paccheri in the boiling water, as they will need about 12 minutes to cook.
Add half of the stock to the sauce and reduce, then add a couple of the tomatoes and the rest of the stock and break them into a pulp to thicken the sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes.

Finally, add some of the basil leaves together with the remaining tomatoes, salt as needed and lightly toss for a couple of minutes. Add the crab meat and the remaining basil, followed by the Paccheri pasta when ready, and sauteé all together for a few seconds. Top with a dash of light extra virgin olive oil and serve with a fresh basil leaf.


This European fine dining restaurant is located in the National Museum of Singapore and has been open for a few years, but although I have been willing to try it out for quite some time, due to its location it always gave me the wrong impression of being a "touristy" restaurant.
This time, looking to try somewhere new, I made the move and stepped into the place. The ambiance gave an instant impression of sophistication, and the dining room is breathtaking: spacious, stylish and classic and benefits from an impressive double height ceiling.

We were soon given a Lunch Set Menu, with either 2 or 3 courses and a choice of about 4-5 dishes per course. The bread soon followed, and it wasn't the best thing we were served, as I prefer traditional crusty bread to the soft, brioche style one which tends to remind me of BreadTalk.

I was a lot more impressed by the amouse bouche, which was a crab meat based soft mousse, with a combination of beautiful flavours and textures. There was even some refreshing soft tofu right at the bottom of the jar to settle the palate.

Together with the amouse bouche, the waiter placed a couple of pretty cards right in front of us to announce the next dish, which we selected out of the set lunch. This was without a doubt a beautiful idea, as it prepares you mentally to what's coming and entertains you with the history and composition details of the dish. I much prefer this approach to the typical waiter babbling some hard to understand long memorised description when the dish is served.

The young Young Beets Salad with roast beets, spinach, hazelnuts, pear and blue cheese was well balanced and a way apart from what you would get in a regular café.

I ordered a Reinvented Vitello Tonnato, which was a brilliant variation on the classic Italian dish, still staying truthful to the original. The slices of veal were topped with some tomato marmalade and tuna tartare, and a few scattered large capers. In my case, the creamy tuna sauce was served separately, as the waiter gathered that I don't like "creamy stuff" while doing my orders. I was in fact enquiring about the risotto, which  he told me contains cream, and I didn't choose for that reason. He asked me if I can't eat dairy products, but I explained that I actually just don't like food with a lot of cream. The kitchen was, from then on, very careful with adding too much cream to my dishes. This was a sign of excellent, attentive service and good partnering work between kitchen and serving staff!

Next, was the Venison Loin with coffee jus, Jerusalem artichoke paste, and almond powder. The dish was well presented and the venison just right, although I personally found that it was too "gamy", and it needed something either herby or acid to cut through that smell. This could be improved upon.

The Seabass from Italy was served on a potato brandade, green asparagus, and a capsicum sauce. The fish was well cooked, the skin was crispy, and the capsicum sauce was an unusual but great accompaniment to the fish.

Now this was the most awaited part of the meal, since the description of this chocolate dessert sounded very intriguing. The Valrhona Chocvolate Test was described as 33% areated mousse, 55% soufflé, 66% sorbet, 72% warm custard, 85% dehidrated chocolate. The chef did a great job at playing with temperatures and textures, all around the same chocolate. I liked the dehydrated chocolate the most, and the warm custard reminded me of an Italian budino.

Soufflé is perhaps my favourite dessert these days, and I am always seeking for the "best soufflé", so I didn't let this opportunity slip, and I ordered the Apple and Calvados soufflé with Chocolate ice cream. I wouldn't rate this soufflé very highly, primarily because it was very spongy, almost like a cake, while I prefer soufflés to be light and airy. Also, what was advertised as an ice cream was actually a mousse (which was the best part). Between the two desserts we ordered, I would recommend the chocolate test.

The cost of the set lunch was S$40 per person for 3 courses or S32 for 2 courses, and the total bill for two including water was S$100. We had a very good experience overall, since the ambiance is extremely pleasant, the service was impeccably attentive, and the food was very good value for money. I would be curious to try the dinner menu, which was actually not available for lunch, even upon request.
NOVUS Restaurant
National Museum of Singapore
Tel: 6336 8770
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